A new move by hard-line Islamic groups in Bekasi to push for the creation of Islamic militant units to fight the “Christianization problem” and serve as morality police is just the latest in a string of incidents highlighting the increasing religious tension in the city just east of Jakarta.
On June 19, the 17-meter “Tiga Mojang” statue at the Haparan Indah housing complex was dismantled because “it does not posses a permit.” But it followed protests by about 1,000 members from 60 hard-line Islamic organizations.
A day later, the first day of the Bekasi Islamic Congress, the Pondok Timur Indah Church was shut down “because the congregation held prayers in a place where they were not supposed to.”
In May, St. Bellarminus, a Catholic school in Bekasi, was attacked by a group of people offended by a student blog that displayed the school’s name and posted pictures and writing reportedly defaming Islam.
In February, members of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) forcibly closed the Galilea Church in Bekasi, alleging that the congregation had been trying to convert Muslims.
But this latest plan, announced on Sunday at the conclusion of the Islamic congress, could be one step too far, pluralism advocates warned.
“The call to ‘enforce’ a certain group against the other could provoke the disintegration of the community and cause useless political tension,” said Syafi’i Anwar, the executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism.
Speaking on behalf of the Wahid Institute, Yenny Wahid demanded the government be more assertive toward hard-line religious groups.
“Anarchism on behalf of religion is increasing, and the government seems to fear any group that uses Islam,” she said.
“We do not want to be like Afghanistan under the Taliban.”
Rev. Palti Panjaitan of the HKBP Filadelfia congregation in Bekasi, which has been refused a permit to build a church, agreed, saying that recently members of “several groups have become freer to do whatever they want.”
“The current situation makes me want to separate myself from Indonesia,” he said.
Yenny theorized that support from government officials could be fueling the situation.
The Bekasi Islamic Congress, for instance, was held after Islamic organizations including the FPI and the Bekasi Islamic Missionary Council (DDI Bekasi) had warned Bekasi Mayor Mochtar Mohammad of more demonstrations targeted at his administration should the congress not be allowed.
“I wonder why a lot of officials are so cowed by the intimidation from these Islamic groups,” Yenny said.
On the other hand, Palti surmised that the people of Bekasi, just outside the capital, had seen an increasing number of migrants in the past few years and perhaps were not ready to deal with them.
“We heard rumors of people saying that our church was an effort of Christianization,” he said. “That’s why they pressure the government to never issue us a building permit for our church.”
Palti said his church was strictly for Batak Protestants as they used the Batak dialect in their services.
Regardless of the reason, both Syafi’i and Yenny say the situation in Bekasi should not be tolerated.
“Shariah in Islam ensures justice and fairness for all,” Syafi’i said. “Rahmatulillalamin , not rahmatulilislam [Blessings to all, not blessings to Islam],” he said, quoting a verse from the Koran.
Indonesia is a pluralistic country, so enforcing Shariah law would violate the Pancasila and 1945 Constitution, he added.
Yenny said the Indonesian state was one based on the supremacy of the law.
“This country does not punish those who would change their religion,” she said. “In fact, the freedom to worship is enshrined in the 1945 Constitution.”